Sigmar Polke

Today, Sigmar Polke is the darling of the international art public buying contemporary German art. His paintings now cost millions. At the same time, he is the artist who was hardly interested in the art scene.


While contemporaries such as Andy Warhol were masters at self-marketing or Gerhard Richter documented his oeuvre art-market-friendly during his lifetime, Sigmar Polke is just not at home when the co-director of the world’s most important museum tries to visit him: “When I was the first in front of his studio with my colleague, he was not there. We went for a coffee, came back – he was not there. We drank another coffee – after that there was a cookie box in the window” says the co-director of the New York Museum of Modern Art..

Polke had spent the 1960s as a Beuys student in Dusseldorf and was involved in many of the famous actions of the Fluxus group. In the early 1970s, he rented a farm at Willich, a place between Dusseldorf and Krefeld. This is where the legendary commune was born, where artists like Martin Kippenberger, Candida Höfer, Dan Flavin, Gilbert & George and Julian Schnabel came together. The Gaspelhof was an anti-bourgeois commune, an alternative conception of living in the Adenauer era. Here, Polke staged himself as the lazy artist unwilling to paint and thus provoking the art world.

When the art critic Barbara Reise traveled to Willich for a catalog text – after all a very important text for Polke’s first solo exhibition in a museum – she did not find Sigmar Polke, but the lazy “Heinrich Dieter Fliegenfänger”. With her subsequent, damning criticism, that Polke would not stand up to the pressure of the market and the international exhibition business, Ms. Reise should be greatly mistaken.


Because the 1960s were also the decade of Sigmar Polkes public breakthrough. In a former Dusseldorf butcher shop in 1963, he showed together with Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg for the first time his paintings publicly. No gallery was interested to show their works. It was unimaginable that these three students would later start such a career: Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke as painters of paintings that are among the most sought after and most expensive in the world, and Konrad Lueg under his real name Konrad Fischer as one of the most successful German gallerists.

In the course of this decade, Polke cultivated his artistic strategies against middle-class petty bourgeoisie and ingenious artistry. At the age of 28, he painted his best-known painting of the time “Höhere Wesen befahlen: Rechte obere Ecke schwarz malen!“ – a mockery of the artist genius and his observer in the best Dada manner. At the end of the decade, Polke achieved great successes, which are given to only a few artists, by participating in the Documenta 1972 and his first retrospective at the Tübingen Kunsthalle in 1976.

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